Joshua Ranum is a doctor at the West River Regional Hospital in Hettinger, but he also came to the aid of North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum at a recent press conference in describing the battle and impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on rural health in the state.
Ranum, who specializes in internal medicine at the hospital, explained that he had been asked to provide some insights into what was happening in one of the state’s hot spots.
“Right now in our small community hospital, we have isolated one wing of the hospital as our designated COVID unit. That has been running at capacity for most of the last two months,” he said, noting that it was actually closer to the last three months.
“It seems like as soon as someone is ready to come off the unit, out of quarantine, or ready to be discharged home... or unfortunately has expired, it seems like there is one or two people ready to take that bed,” he said.
“What we have seen is a steady increase in cases in our area. Granted, that is one of the things that is going to happen with a virus like this. We have seen the strain this has put on our local health system. We have also seen the capacity issues that have occurred across the state.
“In years past, we have had a typical wintertime surge when influenza gets bad,” he said, adding that sometimes the hospital would have to make some phone calls to transfer the patient.
“Now, in October and November, if we have a critically ill patient, COVID or non-COVID, that needs to transferred to a larger facility, we are having to make multiple phone calls,” he said. “Just the other day I had to transfer a patient from Hettinger all the way to Ascension in Fargo.”
He also took time to thank the staff in Hettinger for working “tirelessly around the clock” along with aides, nurses and other members of the West River Health Services people to include the cleaning staff and laundry personnel.
“Everybody is working above capacity to continually care for these patients,” Ranum said.
Staffing has become an issue as the hospital tries to adapt to the impact of the COVID pandemic, he explained.
“Nurses and aides and others that are getting sick are limiting our capacity. We’d love to expand that COVID unit.., we’ll have to regardless,” the doctor said. “We are having trouble keeping our staff engaged due to the degree of illness in the community.”
He noted that most are picking up the contact with the virus out in the community through community spread.
The doctor graduated from Scranton and North Dakota State University. He has been working at the hospital in Hettinger since 2012, the governor said as he introduced the doctor at the Nov. 20 press conference in Bismarck.
“Hettinger is one of the top rural health centers in our state and is considered one of the top rural health centers in the country,” the governor said. “They serve not only southwestern North Dakota but patients from South Dakota and some that come from as far away as Montana and Wyoming.”
In addition to Ranum, the conference also had House Majority Leader Chet Pollert, Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, Dr. Bill Heegaard, president of Essentia Health’s West Market, Dr. Josh Ranum of West River Health Services in Hettinger, Valley City Public Schools Superintendent Josh Johnson and Williston Public School District No. 1 Superintendent Jeff Thake as guest speakers.